Health Watch/Copper Country Mental Health/Debbie Makkonen, M.S., LMFT, LPC
Holistic Health Care
As a society we tend to look at mental health and physical health as two separate entities when they are not only related but actually work together. The brain is not, as yet, as well understood as the rest of the human body; therefore, it makes sense that we would want to look at mental health as an unknown entity and it is human nature to fear the unknown.
We do know that the resources that help the body also benefit the brain and that the things that are harmful to one are also harmful to the other. Most mental illness diagnoses are not a life sentence just as most physical illnesses are not life threatening with proper treatment. Once an individual has any illness, treatment often results in either major improvement in symptoms or even in full and complete recovery.
What we do know is if we eat nutritious foods, get plenty of exercise, adequate sleep, and stay away from alcohol and illicit drugs our general health is improved. If our basic health is good, and we do develop a physical illness the impact is not as devastating. The recovery rate can also be much quicker and need fewer resources to maintain. We are likewise aware that with this same exact self care our mental health is improved. The result of a disorder is less debilitating and recovery can lead to a return to mental health more quickly.
Our brains are actually made to help us deal with emotional problems, just as our immune system is made to help us deal with physical problems. Our brains have the ability to deal with emotional stress and as healthy humans we have an amazing ability to overcome and grow from these challenges. However, mental and/or physical stress, over time, can overwhelm the brain much as the body can be overwhelmed with continual physical and mental illness. If either of these disorders becomes severe it is more problematic for the other. At some point, it may become almost impossible to separate the two.
Physical health treatment appears much more clear cut. Go to the doctor, take a blood test or some other test, and we’ll usually see the problem. Even when the tests fail to show anything there seems to always be more tests, more specialists, and the hope that once diagnosed and with a little treatment, cure is the result. There is no blood test, as of yet, for mental illness.
The current measure of mental illness is time and functioning ability. Therefore, the time it takes to make a diagnosis and the problems caused for the individual and families, both public and private, increases the stigma. This stigma often results in the belief that mental disorders are not as preventable or as treatable as physical illnesses.
Because mental illness is more difficult to diagnose and can have a devastating affect on multiple resources over time; seeking community support early is the optimal treatment. The good news for mental health is that unlike medical treatment, which generally needs a diagnosis first, a mental disorder does not need a diagnosis to seek treatment. Among the current treatments available for mental health are medical care, psychotherapy, and/or substance abuse treatment.
Editor’s note: Debbie Makkonen, M.S., LMFT, LPC is an outpatient therapist at Copper Country Mental Health.